Writer: Orson Scott Card
Pencils: Andy Kubert and Mark Bagley
Inks: Danny Miki, Batt, Jesse Delperdang, John Dell, Scott Koblish
Colours: Richard Isanove, Dave McCaig, Laura Martin
What initially surprised most about the Ultimate Universe during its first two years is how similar the majority of hero origins were to their mainstream parallels. Ultimate Spider-man’s was virtually identical, and the X-Men and Fantastic Four title too similar to be particularly memorable. In The Ultimates, by far the best of the imprint, Mark Miller was more concerned with using the icons for cynical military commentary to weigh his dark reflections down with excess history. Sure, Captain America was angrier, Hulk was… angrier, Thor was a great big phoney and Iron Man had an inoperable brain tumour, but for the most part, the Ultimates played like the Avengers movie we’ll never see.
So how does science fiction author Orson Scott Card’s contemporary back-story compare to the regular Iron Man’s? Well, it’s defiantly different, if a little convoluted. When his mother is infected in a lab accident, Tony Stark is born with neural tissue extended throughout his body. Essentially Tony is all grey matter, which lends him superior mental capacity but leaves him stricken with chronic pain. Nothing like a robot costume with nuclear capabilities to sooth the pain.
Card (the bestselling Ender’s Game books) is an inspired choice to pen Stark’s booze-soaked metamorphosis, but the book often suffers from an overabundance of ideas. The majority work, while several (the liquid armour that gives Tony blue skin) feel a little unjustifiable and unexplored. Stark’s love for the sauce, here out of necessity rather than weakness, is foreshadowed superbly, and it will be interesting to see how Card develops his inevitable downfall.
Unsurprisingly for an Ultimate book, the visuals are exceptionally glossy. I’ve always found Andy Kubert’s jagged pencils a little generic, but his style befits a work like this. Still, I couldn’t help but long for Brian Hitch’s rendition of the superb suit design.
While mildly engrossing, the first volume ends rather abruptly. With little indication as to when, or if, the series will continue, Ultimate Iron Man vol. 1 stands as an interesting if not entirely necessary book. Stan Lee’s creations all proved so enduring because of their simplicity, something that Card’s generation spanning soap opera sorely lacks.